Black History Month is here, which means we will talk about some of the best movies of all time that celebrate Black excellence. These don’t necessarily have to be movies about rights and movements, although we will be mentioning those as well. We are covering all sorts of movies that feature some of your favorite actors and actresses of color, and if we have missed any out, do let us know in the comments! Black History Month is certainly an important time for a lot of people across the world, and we want to help give credit where it is due.
Black History Month is perfect to celebrate black excellence all over the world, and hopefully, once you read about the movies, you will head over and watch them. Of course, our list is only limited to eight movies, although we wish we could have mentioned all, that would take up our entire website. So, here are the top eight movies that we recommend you watch during Black History Month:
1. Judas and the Black Messiah
Although it only grossed $7 million worldwide because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King, was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2021. The biopic is a crime drama that tells the story of Fred Hampton, a former chairman of the Black Panther Party in Chicago. A young pretty criminal by the name of William O’Neal attempts to steal a car while posing as a federal officer in 1968. He is recruited by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and he is paid for the intel he provides.
Ultimately, his goal is to “neutralize” the threat that is Fred Hampton, and the film follows both Hampton’s life as he attempts to survive and O’Neal’s internal conflict as he puts Hampton’s life at risk. Judas and the Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as O’Neal. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Kaluuya took home the award for Best Supporting Actor. In addition to six Oscar nominations, the film and its cast and crew were nominated for BAFTA Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
2. Straight Outta Compton
Released in 2015, Straight Outta Compton is another American biographical drama. The film depicts the rise and decline of the 1980s hip-hop group N.W.A., as well as the lasting impact N.W.A. has had on the genre as a whole. Original members of the group included Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube. These young men, dreaming of creating music and being bigger than their hometown, form their own record label, Ruthless Records.
They go on to change the face of rap music, but not without legal troubles over their controversial material and infighting as the members branch out on their own. Ice Cube is portrayed by his own son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. The film features Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, the group’s former manager who embezzled funds from Ruthless Records. The film, dedicated to the late Eazy-E, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and grossed over $201 million.
3. Malcolm X
One biographical drama that might be considered a masterpiece is Spike Lee’s 1992 epic Malcolm X. Based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X by X and journalist Alex Haley, the film recounts every chapter of the activist’s life, including his incarceration, his conversion to Islam, his marriage to Betty X, his pilgrimage to Mecca, and his assassination on February 21, 1965. It also includes flashbacks of his childhood and the racism he experienced during it.
Malcolm X is portrayed by renowned actor Denzel Washington, and Betty X is played by Angela Bassett, who has appeared in several other films on this list. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards – Best Actor and Best Costume Design. It is so significant that, in 2010, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
4. 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave is yet another biographical drama that informs us of African-American history by way of outstanding filmmaking. The 2013 film was directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley. It was based on the slave memoir of the same title from 1853, written by Solomon Northup. He was kidnapped in 1841 in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery, forced to work on plantations in Louisiana. He was enslaved for 12 years before being released, hence the title.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays Northup, and the cast includes international stars such as Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brad Pitt. Audiences, media outlets, and critics alike deemed 12 Years a Slave the best film of 2013, and it recouped its budget more than eight times over. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.
Without a doubt, one of the most famous African-Americans in history so far is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Directed by Ave DuVernay and written by Paul Webb, the 2014 historical drama Selma is the story of the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, led by MLK.
The film stars David Oyelowo as King, plus Carmen Ejogo as his wife, Coretta Scott King. Supporting actors include Oprah Winfrey, who also produced the film, rapper, and actor Common, LaKeith Stanfield, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Selma was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song – for “Glory” by Common and John Legend – at the Academy Awards. It was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards.
The 2016 film Moonlight is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, his unpublished semi-autobiographical play. Directed by Barry Jenkins, the movie is divided into three parts, each representing a stage in the main character’s life. It explores his childhood, adolescence, and early adult life, as well as his path to accepting and embracing his sexuality.
The film grossed over $65 million internationally and, having been nominated in eight categories, won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was the first LGBTQ film with an all-Black cast to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar with his win for Best Supporting Actor. The film stars Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, and Janelle Monáe, among others. If you’re looking for a more personal story, this might be the one for you!
7. Girls Trip
This next recommendation is a bit different from the others on our list as it’s a comedy film with a mostly-female cast. Girls Trip stars superstars Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Queen Latifah. Written by Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver, the script is based on their experiences with their own female friends. Four friends from their college days plan a girl’s trip to New Orleans to attend the Essence Music Festival and reconnect after not having seen each other in some time.
There are several celebrity cameos in the film, including R&B group New Edition, Ne-Yo, Diddy, and Mariah Carey. The film grossed $140 million worldwide and became the first film by an African-American woman to earn more than $100 million at the box office. The film was met with rave reviews by critics and was named one of the top ten films of 2017 by Time magazine. Girls Trip also won several awards, including two at the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (for Tiffany Haddish).
8. One Night in Miami
Last but not least on our list is actress Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami. The film is based on Kemp Powers’ 2013 play of the same name. It is a fictionalized account of a real meeting in February between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. The meeting took place at the Hampton House, with the four men celebrating Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston. It was the first film by an African-American female director ever to premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September 2020.
It was only in theatres for a limited release before exclusively becoming available digitally on Amazon Prime Video in January 2021. The movie stars Kinsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Eli Goree as Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown, and Leslie Odom, Jr., as Sam Cooke. One Night in Miami was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (for Leslie Odom, Jr.), Best Original Song (“Speak Now” by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Regina King also was nominated for the Golden Globe Award and Critics Choice Award for Best Director.
There you have it! Hopefully, by now you have already added these movies to your list to watch this month, and if not, what are you waiting for?
Deepti is a prolific content writer for OpenMediaHub who specializes in movies, tv shows, and web series, along with occasional reviews. Her interests lie in watching different genres and reading comics books, although her main passion is writing for as long as she remembers.